SearchUSA aims to be 'traffic cop' of online government content

Tuesday - 12/13/2011, 9:43pm EST

Martha Dorris, deputy associate administrator, GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio
@jmoore_WFED

In the world of search engines, you might think Google is king.

But the General Services Administration provides a search capability for government websites — Search.USA.gov — which allows both federal employees and citizens to browse government sites and search for information.

Even though they're both in the search business, GSA doesn't view Google and other commercial search giants, such as Yahoo! and Bing as competitors, said Martha Dorris, the deputy associate administrator of GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

In fact, it's just the opposite, she told In Depth with Francis Rose.

"We really depend on the commercial search engines, like Google and Bing, to bring visitors to the content that we have on USA.gov as well as other agencies across the government," Dorris said, adding that referrals from those search engines provide about 40 percent of the visitors to the USA.gov site. "So, they're really the funnel," she said.

The traffic cop of search

The main goal for SearchUSA is to provide a portal to the government's content once an information seeker is already on a government website, which often happens after being roped in by the big search engines, she added.

"So, there are really two different purposes. The commercial web search engines bring them to the government. And then ... we're kind of the traffic cops to get them to the high-value content within the government space."

Another benefit of the in-house searches is taking advantage of the breadth of content across government sites."We believe search is a strategic resource for the government," Dorris said.

SearchUSA can also be plugged in and customized by agencies and state and local governments on their individual websites, known as affiliate sites.

"It gives the agencies the ability to boost their content and to have their own look and feel within their agency's space," Dorris said.

So far, the websites of the White House, the Defense Department and the Commerce Department, among many others have turned on the search tool, Dorris said, who added GSA is now going "agency by agency" to let others know its available.

Citizen vs. customer

Using the search tool governmentwide yields benefits to the web-browsing citizen and the government, alike, she said.

"The advantage is that the more results we have based on search analytics — we get a better idea of the kind of information the public is looking for," Dorris said. "It's also just a good government thing to provide it when we can."

And while the name of Dorris' office has "citizen" emblazoned across, it, GSA looks at customers probably much the way Google would.

"We need to take our customer and break it down and segment it by the type of person that uses government websites," she explained. "So you can look whether it's a veteran, a teenager, a parent and do audience segmentation. It kind of permeates everything we do across all of the programs."